And Then There Were Two

The NFL playoffs have been outstanding so far and Championship Sunday should not be anything less than riveting. There has been record-breaking offense and blistering, ball hawking defense. There have been close games and some blowouts along with tremendous stories of personal redemption and achievement. The reason we love the NFL is that on any given Sunday anything can happen. It is such an emotional ride! Whether you still have a dog in the hunt, or are just another diehard pigskin fan, there is every reason to watch Sunday.

The NFC takes to primetime on Sunday with the fourth-seeded New York Giants traveling way out west to take on the second seeded San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. These two teams have taken different paths to the Championship Game but it’s safe to say they are both playing their best football when they need to most, right now.

It has been a season of ups and downs for the Giants, who began the season 6-2 before losing five of their next six games. The midseason funk left the G-Men in a must win position the last two weeks of the season to earn their NFC East division crown, and their first trip to the postseason since the ’07 season. That was the year the Giants beat the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl preventing the Pats from completing a perfect 19-0 season. The big key for the Giants turnaround has been on the defensive side of the ball, where they have gotten healthy, and are playing at a championship level. The Giants have only given up more than 14 points once in their current four-game win streak. That came Sunday against, “All World,” Aaron Rodgers and the Packers who scored 20 points on the Giants defense in New York’s 37-20 victory. The Giants defense disrupted Rodgers and the Packers offense all night forcing three fumbles and an interception in the game. Rodgers completed only 50 percent of his pass attempts and at times was more effective running the ball out of the pocket than making plays with his arm. The Giants defense will be facing 49ers’ quarterback Alex Smith in the championship game, who has a long way to go to be mentioned in the same breath with Rodgers.

If the Giants were inconsistent this season the San Francisco 49ers were quite the opposite going 13-3 winning a poor NFC West Division. Alex Smith’s long awaited and often doubted maturity into an NFL caliber quarterback can and should be credited to working under first year head coach Jim Harbaugh. The former Stanford Cardinal head man came to the Niners NFL ready with his experience as a player and a coach. Harbaugh has brought a new attitude to the Bay that has converted Smith and tight end Vernon Davis from good football players into championship contenders in just one season. The 49ers play big boy smash mouth football under Harbaugh and their second ranked scoring defense will be ready for Eli Manning and the Giants.

This should be a classic “gut check” game. This will be a defensive struggle with the winner likely being the team that makes the least mistakes and not necessarily the team that makes a few big plays. The Packers and the Saints can attest to that. Those big play offenses were shut down by these two defenses in the divisional round. The 49ers beat the Giants 27-20 back in Week Ten of the season, but this is a different Giants team. This will be one to definitely have your popcorn ready for!

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